Date: 26th September 2017 at 6:23pm
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‘A Blue Up North’ previews the Champions’ League match between Atletico Madrid v Chelsea…

This Wednesday sees Chelsea return to European action and a visit to one of the most successful teams in the last 5 seasons of the Champions League. This is not only a clash between the best two sides in Group C, but two of the top sides in the whole competition.

Atlético are still unbeaten so far this season. A couple of hard fought away draws early on, along with some strong performances in their two matches at their new stadium has seen them rise up to second place in La Liga. In their opening Champions League Group match they were unable to break through a stubborn Roma defence in Rome whilst Chelsea were demolishing the new boys Qarabag.

This will be the first European match played at Atlético’s new stadium Wanda Metropolitano, which will host next season’s Champions League final, and they have settled in very well so far. Diego Simeone sets his team into a tight 4-4-2 formation, with the midfield 4 playing very narrow. This allows the two full backs to maraud forward – ex Blue Luis set up Griezmann to score in their recent 2-0 victory over a good Sevilla side. Their performances are centred around the strength in numbers in the middle of the pitch. They protect the back line very well whilst allowing the likes of the impressive Carrasco, Koke and Correa to run at the opposition defence.

Antonio Conte will need both Kante and Bakayoko at their most prolific in winning back possession and may call upon more support in central midfield. He may spring a surprise to his usual formation by moving Luiz forward to slot in just in front of the back three, a ploy which helped Chelsea to beat Spurs at Wembley, or asking one of the two wide attackers to regularly drop back to put pressure on Niguez and Gabi. Whichever alternative Conte opts for, if Chelsea can claim a decent amount of possession then their front three will be able to give Atlético’s defence problems, and we saw with Pedro’s goal against Stoke on Saturday how Chelsea can make the most of pressuring the opposition high up the pitch.

Conte’s other dilemmas in choosing his starting line up will include whether to play Moses or Zappacosta on the right hand side, Rudiger or the experience of Cahill in defence and whether to finally start with Hazard. I suspect Zappacosta to get the nod, Rudiger’s better tackling and interception ability to be more in demand than Cahill’s aerial ability and Hazard to come on as an impact substitute again.

This will be a very intriguing match in a very noisy venue between two quality sides led by two of the best managers in the world. The tactics will be a masterclass of chess grandmaster proportions. The midfield battle will be immense with no quarter given. We can expect a very tight and close encounter, but remember that a draw still keeps Chelsea in pole position in the group, an away win will make them favourites to win the group, but even a defeat for Chelsea can still see them comfortably qualify from the group. The pressure is so much more on Atlético to win the match. A factor  which will see them come forward and press with high intensity early on. If Chelsea hold firm this could be a great night for The Blues.

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